The date, and match up has been set, for the biggest fight in recent UFC history.
“Notorious” Conor McGregor steps into the octagon on March 5 to fight lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos in Las Vegas.
Featherweight champ McGregor has lain low since his record-breaking 13-second victory over UFC legend Jose Aldo in December. He expressed his ambitions to make even more history by going up a weight.
But why pursue such a risky step-up when he’s already top of his game?
Sports writer Paul Dollery of the42.ie is the biographer of McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh. He explains to Loaded the risks that McGregor faces.
Loaded: Why is Conor McGregor going for the lightweight belt when he has the featherweight title already?
Paul Dollery: McGregor has been talking about moving back up to the lightweight division for a while. One of the reasons is the weight cut. He’s pretty big for a featherweight, so it’s quite taxing for him to get down to 145lbs. I’m sure people have seen the effects of that when he weighs in – McGregor looks quite gaunt and drained. So cutting to 155lbs is a much easier prospect. He may be surrendering the size advantage he has as a featherweight, but perhaps the more manageable weight cut will ultimately have a positive impact on his performance.
The main reason, however, is that McGregor wants to do what no fighter has done before, by holding two UFC belts at the same time. Initially it seemed that the UFC might not be keen for McGregor to move up to lightweight without vacating the featherweight belt, but he’s worth so much to the organisation now that he’s pretty much calling the shots. After McGregor fights dos Anjos, the likelihood is that he’ll go back down to featherweight and defend that belt against Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 on July 9 in Las Vegas. Besides, McGregor was actually a two-division champion before. Prior to signing with the UFC, he was Cage Warriors’ featherweight and lightweight champion.
L: How much of a challenge is Rafael Dos Anjos?
PD: Dos Anjos has the potential to be one of the trickiest match-ups for McGregor. He’s extremely experienced for a start, but he’s also a pretty good all-rounder. He’s a third-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which basically means that he’s an excellent grappler. McGregor’s grappling is not at all as accomplished as his striking, so that’s an area dos Anjos could exploit. But in recent years, dos Anjos’ striking has improved immeasurably. He won the lightweight title by shutting down a top striker in Anthony Pettis, and he defended it by beating a kickboxer, Donald Cerrone. Dos Anjos has got real momentum behind him now too. He lost four of his first eight fights in the UFC but his record since 2012 is 10-1.
L: Has anyone ever been a two weight title holder in the UFC?
PD: Randy Couture (heavyweight and light-heavyweight) and BJ Penn (welterweight and lightweight) have both been champions in two different divisions, but not at the same time. If McGregor defeats dos Anjos, he’ll achieve something that has never been done before.
You want a piece of this? The ever modest Conor McGregor taunts opposing fans Image Picture Buda Mendes/Getty Images
L: How much money will McGregor stand to make from this fight?
PD: McGregor’s biggest income generator is his cut of the pay-per-view sales, which is generally accepted to be around $4 million per one million sales. Taking into account his fee from UFC plus sponsorship deals with companies like Reebok and Monster, I’d estimate that his overall haul will be somewhere in the region of $10 million.
L: If he beats Dos Anjos, will McGregor go up another weight class to welterweight, as tipped by John Kavanagh?
PD: While I’d be hesitant to rule anything out when it comes to an ambitious guy like McGregor, I’d say it’s pretty unlikely. It’s already enough of a challenge to be active in two divisions. If McGregor is to become the featherweight and lightweight champion, I think there’ll be a sufficient number of questions for him to answer in those two divisions to keep him busy until it’s time to retire. If he abandons the featherweight division, then perhaps. But there are still plenty of challenges for him to overcome, particularly at 155lbs, before he looks any further.